Racism is the belief that abilities and characteristics can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns.
Racism evolved in tandem with European exploration and conquest of much of the rest of the world, and especially after Christopher Columbus reached the Americas. As new peoples were encountered, fought, and ultimately subdued, theories about race began to develop, and these helped many to justify the differences in position and treatment of people whom they categorized as belonging to different races.
Despite the progress in culture, science and technology, racism, tribalism, nationalism, colonialism and the caste system have been mainly responsible for the death of over 62 million human beings in the last 100 years. These numbers, however, do not tell the full story since no numbers are available for the colonial period. And one really cannot imagine the misery of so many millions who suffered through it although they were not killed. Today there are about 22 million refugees in our world who were forced to abandon their homes essentially because of nationalistic war.
Racism has always been both an instrument of discrimination and a tool of exploitation. But it manifests itself as a cultural phenomenon, susceptible to cultural solutions, such as multicultural education and the promotion of ethnic identities. Tackling the problem of cultural inequality, however, does not by itself redress the problem of economic inequality. Racism is conditioned by economic imperatives, but negotiated through culture: religion, literature, art, science and the media.
There is racism today all across the world; it is deep-rooted into the framework of almost every society on the planet. Once they demonized the blacks to justify slavery. Then they demonized the coloured to justify colonialism. Today, they demonize asylum seekers to justify the ways of globalism. And, in the age of the media, of spin, demonetization sets out the parameters of popular culture within which such exclusion finds its own rationale – usually under the guise of xenophobia.
India was always at the forefront of the battle against racism and intolerance. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela took inspiration from India and Mahatma Gandhi to fight racism and intolerance. In the United Nations and other world forums, India spoke for suppressed people wherever they were in the world. As one of the first non-white nations to throw off the yoke of European colonialism, India was a beacon of hope for freedom fighters everywhere. Yet when it comes to accepting people from other races in our own society, today we are showing that we are light years away from practising what we have preached.
Most Indians see racism as a phenomenon that exists in other countries, particularly in the West, and without fail, see themselves as victims. They do not see themselves harboring (potentially) racist attitudes and behaviour towards others whom they see as inferior. But time and again, various groups of people, particularly from the Northeast, have experienced forms of racial discrimination and highlighted the practice of racism in India. In fact, institutionalized racism has been as much on the rise as cases of everyday racism in society.
As a nation of immigrants, the US is losing its strength in diversity today as racism and ethnic inequalities loom large in American society. People of colour face structural barriers when it comes to securing quality housing, healthcare, employment, and education. Racial disparities also permeate the criminal justice system in the US and undermine its effectiveness. To be black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, there is never a right place for black people. Everything black people do is weighted by irrational white fear.
Trump has clearly exploited and perhaps reinforced some deep-seated reservations about immigrants, Islam and even diversity more generally. This explains why some of Trump’s more controversial policy positions – building a wall along the U.S Mexico border, temporarily banning Muslim immigration and tracking Muslims in a database – have not damaged but instead bolstered his standing with Republican primary vote.
Britons suffer a superiority complex given that at one point in history, they dominated almost the entire world. Within Britain, there are verbal attacks on people from South Asia, against Irish people, and more recently, mostly due to government discourse and the media, against Muslim people. Institutionalized racism against darker-skinned people is an issue, as is state-sponsored anti-immigrant sentiment.
Racism has been a stain also on the soul of sports, especially soccer for generations. A series of high-profile incidents in recent years has prompted calls for tougher action from football’s governing bodies. Racism in soccer goes to show that discrimination in Europe extends far beyond its politics. It’s disgusting that this still happens today. Indeed, racism is a huge problem in Europe when it comes to football, or soccer. Players of colour are often heckled by fans in Italy and Spain, among other places. Fans have been heard using racist slurs, monkey chants, and have even thrown bananas and peanuts at certain players.
Clearly, racism and discrimination are not unique to any single country or region. Oppression is a global problem that we must all address in unison. In this globalized world, it is inevitable that we will all find ourselves in more diverse societies, and it’s imperative that we learn to live together. We are all human, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. It is a shame that we are still dealing with problems surrounding racism across the globe. Irrespective of its sources, racism is racism. Ignorance is no excuse. Insecurity is not justification.
Racism is a destructive and persistent evil that brings only harm. Sadly it is often a misinformed response to economic hardship. Rather than solving economic problems, however, racism fuels the fire of suffering by intimidating its victims and corrupting its perpetrators. Until more of us realize that we are meant to share this world, and that race is ultimately superficial, it seems that this madness may continue.
We must uncompromisingly condemn and fight all forms of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. If we don’t keep fighting these battles, we shall lose all respect for the inherent dignity and well-being of the each member of the human family which is the psychological foundation of freedom, human justice and peace in the world.
(The writer is a freelance journalist based in New Jersey, USA. She can be reached at email@example.com)